AURORA, Ore. — An Oregon antique auction house has removed a Ku Klux Klan hood from the list of items for sale in an auction this week.
The decision follows criticism that McLaren Auction Services had created a market to profit off a hate item, although owner Gary McLaren said that's not why his company is pulling it from open bidding.
"We sell history here and that happens to be a part of American history," McLaren said. "Now, after (KGW) called earlier I pulled my staff together and we talked about it, and even though we feel we are right to sell this, we have decided to pull it from the auction."
McLaren said the decision was not made in response to ethical concerns about potentially glorifying hatred or discrimination, but rather because the auction house staff was worried about a public reaction.
"My staff felt somewhat threatened, you know how Portlanders can be, they were afraid they would come out and disrupt the auction and somebody could possibly be hurt," he said. "We thought it was in best interest of my staff to pull it and return it to the consigner."
The hood, described as an item from the 1910s or 1920s and accompanied by a digital copy of a donation slip from a Klan member, had already received a $30 opening bid ahead of the Thursday auction of more than 430 antique items.
Anna Harris, a vintage store owner in Portland, had previously discovered the KKK hood listing as she was browsing for unique items.
"The view of the hood immediately shocked me and kind of shook me," Harris said. "It’s not a collectible. It’s not memorabilia. It’s a hate item and it perpetuates hate and in my opinion it shouldn’t be for auction, it shouldn’t be for sale, if anything it should be donated to a museum or something archival."
McLaren said the hood belonged to an elderly woman who was 'downsizing' and asked the auction house to sell it.
"I’ve sold other Klan stuff before and never had anybody say a word about it," McLaren said. "We’ve sold Black Americana, Native American stuff, historical items from every war, but for some reason this is drawing comments from what I call Portland liberals."
Harris, while grateful that the hood is no longer for sale, said McLaren's explanation frustrates her.
"I feel like that’s an inappropriate reason to take it off," she said. "It’s not good enough and they’re just kind of confessing that they’re okay perpetuating hate and racism as long as they don’t get backlash from it."
McLaren said he has sold KKK leaflets or brochures in the past without issue, but never parts of a KKK outfit.
"It has nothing to do with hate, and you can turn it and pretend it has to do with hate but it really doesn’t," he said. "It has to do with America’s history and America’s history isn’t always pretty."
Harris said she believes it's not that simple.
"Yeah, it is absolutely history, and it is hate," she said.
Large auction sites like eBay do not allow the listings of items like KKK or Nazi clothing, on the grounds that these items promote, perpetuate or glorify hatred.
McLaren said, in his opinion, donating the item to a museum or historical center would just reallocate who profits from the dark side of American history.
"The ironic thing about that is a museum is going to charge you $10 to $20 a head to go in and look at their display of Klan memorabilia," he said. "Somebody in the long run is going to profit from this."
When asked by KGW if he would sell KKK materials in the future, McLaren said he may keep them out of the public eye.
"I don’t think I’d sell it at public auction, a lot of auctioneers have people that contact them that say hey if you ever get this or that I’d be interested," he said. "I don’t know anyone personally that collects KKK items but I’m sure they’re out there."
Based on the opening bid and the auction being just two days away, McLaren said the KKK hood could've held minimal value. It will be returned to the woman who gave it to the auction house to sell.